3000-year-old Greek Processional ‘Sacred Road’ Discovered in Turkey
An important and very rare ‘Sacred Road’ has been unearthed by archaeologists in western Turkey. The ancient pathway once ran between two important Greek cities. It played a critical role in the religious and cultural life of the ancient communities in the area for many centuries.
This exciting discovery was made by a Turkish team of archaeologists led by Bilal Sogut, of Pamukkale University. It was found in the province of Mugla, this region was known in classical times as Caria. The route runs for several miles between the ancient Greek cities of Stratonikeia and Lagina.
Ancient Greek Cities Connected by the Sacred Road
According to the Anadolu Agency website, Stratonikeia and Lagina “have remained inhabited throughout the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Turkish Republic periods”. They were once very significant urban communities but have dwindled in population and are now only small rural villages. The sacred route is estimated to be 3,000 years old and dates to a period when the area was colonized by ancient Greeks .
Archaeologists discovered the path, made from stone, during a planned dig this year. They have also found a number of stone columns that once stood alongside the route. During their excavations, they also unearthed one of the city’s gates, the northern gate of Stratonikeia.
The ancient road at the slopes hill in Stratonikeia. ( Bilal Sogut / Facebook)
The Sacred Road Was a Path to the Goddess of the Moon, Night, and Magic
Many Greek cities, including Athens, had a sacred road or way. The one that linked Stratonikeia and Lagina, was used for ritual processions during important religious festivals. Lagina was an important religious center while the other city was a significant political center.
The Hurriyet Daily News quotes Sogut saying, “The ‘Sacred Road’ was used as a ceremonial path for the Lagina Hecate sanctuary from antiquity to the present”. Hecate was the Greek goddess of the moon and the night, and was associated with magic. The ruins of the Lagina Temple of Hecate can still be seen to this day.
The ruins of the Lagina Hecate sanctuary on the sacred road. ( Bilal Sogut / Facebook)
For many centuries a priest and a choir would walk in a procession on the road. A young girl with a key to one of the city gates would walk before the priest, while the choir presumably sang hymns. The procession would then enter through the northern gate of Stratonikeia.
The northern city gate of Stratonikeia and the sacred road of Lagina. ( Bilal Sogut / Facebook)
There are plans to restore the sacred road. The team working on the site aims to bring the pathway to the surface by clearing it of earth, which is a very labor intensive process. This will allow visitors to see the road with its original stone for the first time in many centuries.
The team has revealed mosaics at the Lagina Hecate sanctuary . ( Bilal Sogut / Facebook)
Ancient Tombs Found Near the Sacred Road
The Anadolu Agency website reports that “tombs in the region were unearthed during excavations this year. It appears that it was a custom to bury prominent people near the sacred road. There are plans to restore the burial sites, which are some of the most important remains in the two historic cities.
The head of the dig has stated that “we want to exhibit the most important of the tombs in their original locations, to keep the burial traditions of the sacred road alive” reports the Hurriyet Daily News . With the restoration work on the road and the adjacent tombs, it is hoped that will eventually lead to the site becoming a major tourist attraction.
This discovery of the ancient roadway can also help the ancient cultural landscape to achieve the status of a World Heritage Site . This would designate the location as being of great historical importance and deserving of legal protection. At, present it is on UNESCO's ‘Tentative List’, which means that it is actively being considered for nomination for the prestigious status, by the Turkish government.
Top image: Columns along the sacred road discovered. Source: Bilal Sogut / Facebook.
By Ed Whelan